For the ninth year in a row, Maryland leads the nation in the percentage of high school graduates who have passed at least one Advanced Placement test during high school.
Last year, 31.8 percent of students who graduated from the state's public high schools passed an AP exam, up 2 percentage points from the previous year, according to data from the College Board released by state officials Wednesday.
"We are very pleased that Maryland students have performanced well in AP for this year, but we know there is still work to be done with our underperforming students," said Henry Johnson, who is in charge of assessment for the Maryland State Department of Education.
Many colleges and universities offer course credit to students with high scores, allowing them to graduate early and save money. The tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5. A score of 3 or more is considered passing.
The number of students taking AP classes has grown rapidly, and Maryland officials said Wednesday that more than half of all graduates last year took an AP exam. Many more take the course, but decide not to sit for the exam.
Connecticut was ranked second, with 30.8 percent of its graduates passing at least one test. The national average is 21.6 percent.
After a decade-long push by Maryland officials and the College Board, the rigorous college-level courses and end-of-year exams now are offered to students in nearly every high school in the state.
The number of students who sat for an exam grew from 8,447 in 1990 to nearly 80,000 last year.
But the expansion of Advanced Placement classes has not always meant an increase in pass rates for African-Americans and other minorities. In 2014, 29 percent of African American students took a test, compared to 56 percent of white students. Of those African-American test takers, 30 percent passed an exam, compared to 72 percent of white students.
"We want the students who are capable of taking the class to take it. We feel with support they can do well in class," Johnson said.
He credited Maryland's most recent increases to a new program offered by the College Board that uses a student's PSAT score to predict whether they will do well in AP. Johnson said it has helped identify students whom schools might have missed as having the potential to do the work in an AP class.
A Baltimore Sun analysis in 2013 found that many students who aren't academically prepared for the classes founder and then fail the exams. In addition, parents and college admissions officers have expressed growing concern that top students are taking too many Advanced Placement classes as a way to increase their chances of admission to top colleges.